Peter Jackson has formally moved away from the artistic act of directing, and into the business of creating synthetic movie “product.” “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is to cinema what “pink slime” is to food. Jackson’s unfathomable infatuation with a 48-frame-rate makes “The Hobbit” look like a bad HD soap opera. Has the once highly respected filmmaker has gone too far in the wrong direction to ever return to the potential he once held?
Doubtlessly feeling the pressure of carrying the weight of New Zealand’s version of Hollywood on his shoulders, Jackson has made a prequel movie — to his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — that effectively negates their existence.
Martin Freeman gives an empathetic if misspent performance as Bilbo Baggins, a “burgler” hobbit chosen by the wizard Gandalf (reliably played by Ian McKellen) to accompany he and his ragtag band of dwarves on a journey to regain their mountain home. A terrible fire-breathing dragon drove them out, and still resides there. Enter an interchangeable parade of dwarf characters — roughly 14 — to make a mess of Bilbo’s cozy earth-sheltered home. An hour goes by before anything happens. Once on their journey, it’s the same old dog and pony show. A series of battles with Orcs and various chase scenes lead our vista-loving travelers to a brief stay-over in Rivendell to seek the advice of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Saruman (Christopher Lee). Yawn. Audience eyes water uncontrollably behind 3D glasses. More yawning. Check your watch. Yawn again.
The film’s big moment finally arrives when Bilbo comes face to face with Gollum (Andy Serkis) for the first time. Except that this Gollum turns out to be much crazier than the one represented in the “Lord of the Rings” films. This time around, Gollum is off the bat-shit scale of loopy. No more eating of fish. This Gollum wants human flesh. Most bizarre is the complete lack of meaning or context given for the “precious” gold ring that the burglar Bilbo makes off with.
In the mindset of a paying audience member, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” would be enough to insure that I not return for the final two installments if this atrocity. However, as a critic, I will no doubt be called upon to set aside the prejudice this first chapter has earned.
Rated PG-13. 166 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
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